CSIRO’s Vivek Srinivasan says the applications for the technology are expanding into some rather unexpected places, like food. He outlines the future of Australia’s industry
‘I believe 3D printing has huge implications and opportunities for Australia’s manufacturing sector’
Global warming, terrorism, economic crisis; imagining the future can be terrifying and depressing. But what if we could change the future?
That’s the idea behind Vivek Srinivasan’s role in the Futures department at Australia’s national science and research institute, CSIRO. Tapping the knowledge of 5,000 CSIRO experts and scientists, Srinivasan is helping to forecast how Australia will change, over the next 20 years and beyond.
He told the Indian Sun how it’s possible to change the future for the better.
“The goal really is to try to understand long term opportunities and challenges across sectors and across the nation, and the role science and technology can play to address them,” Srinivasan said. Based in CSIRO’s Clayton Office at Monash University, Srinivasan helps Australian companies and government agencies understand potential future scenarios.
Creating these scenarios is a complicated process. “There’s a lot of desk research,” Srinivasan said. Alongside reading numerous scientific reports, he draws on expertise within CSIRO, and conducts interviews with scientists and the institute’s clients, to understand their concerns. “We spend the most amount of time on: what does it mean? And what should we be doing next?” he said.
So what’s in store for Australia’s future?
Looking at new technologies, Srinivasan thinks 3D printing could have the biggest impact in coming years. “I believe that has huge implications and opportunities for Australia’s manufacturing sector,” he said. Srinivasan pointed out that the world was already seeing “really interesting examples” of how 3D printing can be used in manufacturing to create titanium implants for healthcare. And he said the applications for the technology were only growing, as more and more printing materials were being developed – which could mean we soon see 3D printing used in some rather unexpected places, like food. “There’s this endless stream of things that are going on that are changing the landscape quite significantly,” said Srinivasan.
One of the most talked about industries in Australia that CSIRO imagines futures for is resources and mining. Looking ahead, Srinivasan said Aussie mining companies may not just need to secure licenses to mine in the future, but also win over communities to gain a “social license to operate”. Coming years are also expected to see a tougher environment for commodities prices. But Srinivasan said there were also “huge opportunities” for Australian mining companies in mineral exploration, to discover new sources of supply – particularly of strategic minerals and metals used in products that are expected to be in high demand in the future, including solar panels.
Perhaps the most important Australian resource CSIRO looks into the future for is human. What skills will the workforce of tomorrow need? As Srinivasan said: “Having the right skills is extremely important, especially when we talk about this digital future which communities are rapidly moving towards”. Young Australians will need the right education and training – not only to find jobs in the new digital economy, but also to fight off expected competition from robots. “There’s this fear that technology will end up automating too many jobs and impact our social prosperity,” said Srinivasan.
If a future where humans are fighting robots for jobs sounds depressing to you, consider this. Srinivasan said imagining futures gives us the information needed to change things for the better. “Science and technology can play a role in pushing us forward,” he said: “We actually can use technology side-by-side with industry and create new industries.”
Srinivasan said the key to making the future a positive one is to discuss potential future scenarios today, and act to tackle challenges. However, he said the looming skills challenge Australia faces was one future issue that was, “talked about a lot, but not acted on appropriately”. It’s not just up to Australia’s government to discuss and act to strengthen the future skills of the country’s workforce. Srinivasan said many people have a role to play – from educators, to community groups and companies. “They need to be active and understand opportunities and challenges and get involved in the debate,” he said.
“Given the rapid pace of change that we’re seeing with technology, many people are struggling to keep up,” Srinivasan said.
But if Australia falls behind in technology, Srinivasan warned that technology would change anyway, “with or without us”. This is because the bulk of new developments occur outside Australia’s borders. Which is why Srinivasan said, “being able to understand those changes and think about the implications is so vital – it’s about creating a really strong vision for our country, and using that vision to drive change.”